1) Philadelphia Phillies
Upside: The pitching rotation – who else has three proven aces on their staff, with a chaser of Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton? Nobody. Not to mention, this team won 97 games last year despite being crippled by injuries, and whoever wasn’t hurt kinda sucked.
Downside: The loss of Jayson Werth means if nobody emerges as protection for Ryan Howard, he won’t see 20 pitches to hit all year. It also means this line-up is waaaaay left-handed, and the Chase Utley injury doesn’t help. Oh, by the way, the bullpen sucks; and that was before the injury to Brad Lidge.
2) Boston Red Sox
Upside: They are going to score runs by the buttload. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia setting the table in front of a 3-4-5 Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis means there’s is going to be a lot of crooked numbers on the Fenway scoreboard.
Downside: I don’t give a damn what anybody says, I don’t buy this pitching staff. Jon Lester is over-rated in my book, although he is still pretty solid. The rest of the starters are coin-flips; is the book out on John Lackey? It sure looks like AL hitters have figured him out. For being some sort of “wunderkind,” Clay Buchholz walks a lot of guys. Like it or not, this is as good as it gets, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are non-factors. The addition of Bobby Jenks to the bullpen means, like me, the Red Sox have no faith in Jonathan Papelbon.
3) Atlanta Braves
Upside: While they are a collection of “what-ifs” built around a solid core of just enough hitting and just enough pitching, too many of those “what-ifs” look pretty likely.
Downside: How long is this Chipper Jones thing going to last? My fear is that the “resurgence” we saw this spring will fade, and far too many at-bats will be tossed into a hole hoping the dream returns.
4) New York Yankees
Upside: They are a mirror image of the Red Sox; that offense will score runs in droves.
Downside: They will need to score, because their pitching staff is going to give it up faster than a cheerleader on prom night. CC Sabathia is a legitimate ace, but it gets dicey quickly after that. Is AJ Burnett finished? Is Phil Hughes for real? Do Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia know it isn’t 2003 anymore?
5) San Francisco Giants
Upside: Hey Philadelphia, you can phorget about Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee; the best 1-2 big game pitcher punch is in San Francisco in the form of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Last October showed that. The same rotation that led them to the title is still intact, and if Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner continue to develop, this entire staff if healthy could be better than the Phillies top-to-bottom.
Downside: We still don’t know if they can hit. Miguel Tejada was the only upgrade made on the offensive end, and Buster Posey is the real deal, so it will all come down to Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and/or Cody Ross, and the newly-svelte Pablo Sandoval.
6) Los Angeles Angels
Upside: This team has ownership that isn’t afraid to make a move, and you can look for the Angels to be lurking in the weeds at the trade deadline. Everybody saw this team roll over and die after losing Kendrys Morales; the acquisition of Dan Haren was a move for the future, so don’t be surprised when the Angels make another big mid-season move.
Downside: The whole season may be riding on one move; the Vernon Wells acquisition. It could be a stroke of genius, or it could become a money-sucking vortex ion the middle of the Angel lineup.
7) Minnesota Twins
Upside: No matter what, this team always gets a miracle out of somebody when they need it, as in Jim Thome last year.
Downside: They might need that miracle, because this team really underwhelms me on paper, especially if this Morneau concussion situation keeps dragging on. Besides, to be honest, I’m growing weary of the Twins model – start slow, finish strong, get crushed by the Yankees in October.
8 ) Cincinnati Reds
Upside: This team has one of the two young pitching staffs with huge potential. They also have a reigning MVP in Joey Votto, and all signs point to this being the breakout year for Jay Bruce. Plus, they are in the NL Central, where nobody is going to be any good.
Downside: That pitching staff is managed by Dusty “The Ligament Shredder” Baker, and there’s no telling how long the Scott Rolen miracle will continue.
9) Chicago White Sox
Upside: This is another line-up that will score runs, especially with the addition of Adam Dunn and the fact they will be no longer wasting at-bats on Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones. If Alex Rios’ resurgence wasn’t a fluke, if they can get Carlos Quentin healthy, and if Gordon Beckham plays like he did late last year, they could run away with the AL Central.
Downside: Also known as the reasons why they won’t win the division, namely a pitching staff that is completely fraudulent after Mark Buehrle, and the fact they have no depth. A couple of key injuries, and this team suddenly becomes the Royals.
10) Oakland Athletics
Upside: This is the other team with the fascinating young pitching staff. The top four starters in Oakland combined for a 3.16 ERA in 700 innings pitched last season.
Downside: Their offense was what let them down last year, and they only added Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham. There aren’t a lot of guarantees on engine performance when you only add two used spark plugs.
11) Colorado Rockies
Upside: They have 3 of the most exciting young players in baseball in Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez.
Downside: That’s really all they have.
12) Milwaukee Brewers
Upside: There’s a love fest in Milwaukee. Everybody loves Zack Greinke in the NL. Everybody loves the Shaun Marcum acquisition. Everybody loves Prince Fielder in a contract year.
Downside: All this love is still in Milwaukee. The Brewer line-up is thinner than light beer, and that will only get worse when Fielder gets traded.
13) Texas Rangers
Upside: They can still be competitive in the AL West, even with the loss of Vlad Guerrero’s bat and the inevitable return to earth of C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis.
Downside: It won’t take much to remain competitive in the AL West, which means it more than likely looks to be another long summer in Arlington.
14) Detroit Tigers
Upside: They have a “good enough” rotation, and they added some punch to an offense which already features the best offensive weapon in the AL.
Downside: Does the Miguel Cabrera situation become a distraction? If so, and the key to the Tiger offense goes in the tank, Detroit flounders faster than the Edmund Fitzgerald. If not, they could steal this division out from under the Twins and White Sox.
15) Florida Marlins
Upside: Don’t look now, but this team can pitch.
Downside: What will the offense be without Dan Uggla, and what will Mike Stanton do in a full season?
16) St. Louis Cardinals
Upside: At least they still have Albert Pujols. If Lance Berkman has anything left in the tank, if Colby Rasmus can become an All-Star, and if Jake Westbrook can pitch as well as he did in the 2nd half of last year, the Cards can keep the Reds honest in the NL Central.
Downside: This might be the end for the LaRussa era in St. Louis. Even if Pujols stays with the Cardinals, Adam Wainwright’s future is now a question mark, Chris Carpenter’s dominating ways are nearing an end, Jamie Garcia can’t be counted on to be as good as he was last year, and it wasn’t that long ago Colby Rasmus was making trade demands.
17) Baltimore Orioles
Upside: Don’t look now, but this team doesn’t suck. Seriously, it jumped out at me how not terrible this line-up is: Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Luke Scott, Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy…and with Jake Fox crushing the ball this spring, Buck Showalter is going to have some interesting options on the line-up card.
Downside: Even though Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman show a ton of potential in the rotation, the rest of the pitching staff is thinner than an Ethiopian swimsuit model.
18 ) Tampa Bay Rays
Upside: The off-season is over, so it can’t get any worse…the Rays have had the worst off-season in recent memory, having lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour. At least they can still pitch.
Downside: After Evan Longoria, the line-up gets pretty scary. If Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have nothing left, this could be a tough year.
19) Los Angeles Dodgers
Upside: They have a couple of decent starters, they have some interesting arms in the bullpen, and Frank McCourt likely won’t own this team much longer.
Downside: Here’s the Dodgers represented in punctuation ???????????????????????????????????? This team is nothing but a parade of questions, not the least of which is who will own it this time next year? Who will pay the bills until then? Who, if anybody on this offense is actually going to do something at the plate?
20) Toronto Blue Jays
Upside: This team has talent that should really give them a bright future.
Downside: The future isn’t today. The Blue Jays had a great season last year due to a rejuvenated offense led by Jose Bautista’s 54 homers. That isn’t likely to happen again, but if it does, Toronto could be in the three-way fight to finish third in the AL East.
21) Chicago Cubs
Upside: Its spring, when Cubs fans everywhere have hope that at long last, this will finally be the year the winning drought in Wrigley Field ends.
Downside: The Cubs have an average-at-best rotation, and aging stars on offense. Spring becomes summer; the drought continues.
22) San Diego Padres
Upside: You really can’t beat the weather in San Diego…and they still have a nice, albeit thin, pitching staff.
Downside: The competitive days are over, at least for a while. With the departure of Adrian Gonzalez, this team will be in rebuilding mode for a while.
23) Washington Nationals
Upside: This team certainly seems to get the idea that their time starts in 2012 or 2013, and they are building to that. There future is so bright, they may in fact need to wear shades.They’ve cracked open the piggy-bank, even to a ridiculous level, but in that spend-gasm they have sent the message they intend to field a competitive team built around the young phenoms in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The pitching staff is solid, although unspectacular.
Downside: Timing…this is the year the Gnats take a step toward the future by finishing in front of the meltdown known as the Mets. But this year is the last year before the expectations are going to go up. They can still be terrible this year, but if they finish fifth in 2013, they may just become a red version of the Cubs.
24) Seattle Mariners
Upside: Felix Hernandez. Here’s how a guy wins a Cy Young Award on 13 measly wins: 2.27 ERA, 249.2 innings, 232 K, 1.06 WHIP, and a .212 BAA. He’s either the lynchpin of your pitching rotation for the next decade, or he’s the guy you will get a king’s ransom for some July in the future.
Downside: The line-up. After Ichiro, Seattle becomes a black hole of offense. This team will struggle to score three runs a game. If this team wins 75 games, I will eat my keyboard.
25) Houston Astros
Upside: See the Tampa Bay Rays…hopefully the nightmare is over soon. Last year saw the Astros had a fire sale which leaves them arguably as a Texas version of the Pirates, although I’m not sure the are as good as the Pirates. After the carnage, they are left with a team consisting of a pitching staff starring a warmed-over Brett Myers and a pseudo-talented outfield. Hunter Pence is entering his prime and coming off a .282/25/91 season and now carries the torch as Houston’s best player. In left field, Carlos Lee still can put up some power numbers, although he’s is begin to show the signs of age. Michael Bourn swiped 52 bases last season and Jason Michaels can play all three outfield positions.
Downside: Look at the Upside. Hunter Pence is your best player. Brett Myers is your best pitcher. The credible concept has been floated you are worse than the Pirates <shudders>.
26) Pittsburgh Pirates
Upside: All things considered, the Pirates have actually cobbled together some pieces that threaten to put them on the verge of respectability. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t there yet, but with some young talent like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, they at least have something to build on.
Downside: But will they build on it? You don’t go through two decades of being a laughing stock without making a science out of bad decision making. Also, if they decide to build, will they finally invest in some pitching?
27) New York Mets
Upside: If you believe in rays of hope, here’s a couple. Brad Emaus will have double digit home runs and stolen bases for the Mets…his on-base percentage in the minors the last two years was .402 and .395, respectively. Jose Reyes will score 100 runs, steal 40 bases and hit double-digit home runs…he’s in a contract year, and numbers like that could make him baseball’s next $100 million.
Downside: Right after any of those things happen, we can all join hands and visit the fairy princess together. Not only does the ownership situation threaten to sink the ship, it completely kills the ability to make the moves the Mets need to stay relevant in the NL East. Let’s face it, meltdown, dumpster fire, train wreck…they all are synonymous with “Mets.”
28 ) Arizona Diamondbacks
Upside: Kevin Towers has taken over as GM, so the rebuilding can begin.
Downside: It’s going to get worse before it gets better in Arizona. This was a team on the rise just a few years ago, now there will be a long rebuilding process. It starts with trading Justin Upton.
29) Kansas City Royals
Upside: They got rid of the over-rated and soon-to-be-oft-injured Zach Grienke, and the monstrously overpaid Gil Meche. Now all they have to do is get rid of humps like anybody currently in the Royal outfield and the entire pitching staff except for Joakim Soria, so they can start bringing up the talent they are over-stocked on in the minors.
Downside: General Manager Dayton Moore is a bit of an unproven commodity, so there’s no guarantee that he isn’t going to mortgage the future if the fans expectations suddenly outstrip the team’s talent.
30) Cleveland Indians
Upside: They have one good hitter in Shin-soo Choo, one good pitcher in Fausto Carmona, and one excellent catcher in Carlos Santana, and rumors keep swirling the Tribe has some interesting youngsters down on the farm.
Downside: The heyday for this team was fifteen years ago, and unless you can find a way to add Roger Dorn, Pedro Cerrano, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, and Jake Taylor to the roster, there will be more than one long summer in Cleveland’s near future.